Thursday, April 7, 2011

China Blue

The Delft Window at Bergdorf Goodman in 2005.
Even the mannequins have been painted blue.
 My affinity for Blue and White of the Chinese persuasion has been with me for as long as I can recall, but I have no idea where I picked it up from.  It persists and haunts me like a social disease, but with more decorative qualities and less damage to my reputation.  Yet the itch must always be scratched.

Blue and White is one of those enigmatic decorating phenomenons; there is no room that can not benefit from a little, or a lot, of it.  Whether modern, traditional or noncommittal, Blue and White will always add a little something to the mix.  It's instant taste.  Aristocratic class.  Heritage in a flash.  No one has to know you found those Temple Jars at a garage sale.  As far as they're concerned, they were your dear dead Nonna's pride and joy; something she picked up on her honeymoon is Shanghai.  You had to wrestle them from the clutches of your second cousins lest they become table lamps.  How lovely they look on your hearth; have you thought of them under your Demilune in the foyer?  The pleasures of the unexpected are always well remembered.

A charming trio of Blue & White Double Happiness jars.
Available from Wisteria for $199.00.  Such a steal.
Blue and White doesn't have to cost a fortune.  If you
can afford an antique, more power to you, but you can
score some great pieces at Homegoods as well.

 Chinese Blue and White, as we know it today, first smacked the West in the face during the 17th and 18th Centuries when it was being made specifically for export to Europe and America from China.  Trade had opened up the East and Fashion had fueled the fire for imported decorative Chinese wares, dubbed Chinoiserie.  Lacquerwork, hand painted wallpapers, and Foo Dogs also came along for the ride.  When the ships hit France, the Blue & White Lily was gilded by the addition of Rococo style Ormolu mounts.   

A century earlier, Italy was trying it's hand at copying the classic with tin glazes on pottery.  They produced amusing Mediterranean forms decorated with stylized birds and flowers.  Think of a white Grecian Urn with blue Lotus flowers and you'll get the idea.  Somewhat jarring, yet admirable.

Interestingly, China heisted the Blue and White concept from the Middle East in the 9th Century when they imported Cobalt blue pigments from Iran.  By the 14th Century, China had nailed the soon to be coveted look and incorporated Islamic motifs with their own stylized designs.  They became so popular that the wares were exported to the Middle East where Asian motifs of Cranes, Dragons and Lotus flowers turned up on Islamic pottery in Syria and Egypt.  That's sort of poetic, don't you think?  Such a wonderful emblem of global influences. 

Roberto Cavalli, Fall 2005.
A dress engineered to replicate the form
and pattern of Chinese export porcelain.
The mouth and throat of the vase becomes
the bodice, the shoulder becomes the hip,
and so on.  So striking.
Blue and White hit a snag during the 15th Century when Ming Dynasty Emperors put the screws to production; they felt the art form was too foreign in inspiration for their artisans to be producing.  Thankfully, those feelings died off before the rest of the Dynasty did.  Production resumed and popularity continued to grow.  I'm sure China though Europe was insane for wanting to buy their early examples.  These were mundane items, a precursor to Tupperware, if you will.  A far cry for the highly decorative versions Europe would fall in love with later.  Lidded vases and vessels were used by cooks and apothecaries; items were hardly valued for their looks alone.  All that of course, would change. 

Throughout all of the importing and incarnation, what has persisted has been the silhouette.  The refined, graceful, dare I say perfect, profile of these pieces has perpetuated their allure.  The soigne necks, the curved bosom like shoulder, the wasp waist that slides in to an elegantly flared base; even without the painted images, the precise proportions and sensuous curves give these works the power to stand undressed and still be breathtaking.  If only all objet could have as much style and substance as these timeless icons.  
- Ian             

A pair of Gilded Lilies.  Chinese export vases with gilt Bronze
Mounts from the Met Museum.  Circa 1750.

Rodarte Ming Print dress for Spring 2011.
I love that it's being combined with a geometric
pseudo-Batik.  A nice contrast.

Ralph Lauren's Bedroom at Bedford.  I love the way Cobalt
compliments the Mahogany furnishings.  And you can
never go wrong with an Oriental carpet.

Ralph Lauren's Living Room at Bedford.  There are so many
things right with this room; I love eclecticism.  The blue & White
Jar on the console just adds another element of interest, as
do those Louis XV chairs covered in Zebra!
Ralph Lauren's Oolong Wallpaper. 
Heavenly with gloss white trim and Brass fixtures.
And Hurricane Lamps!

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